Islamabad: Taking major steps towards boosting bilateral trade, India and Pakistan have agreed to ease visa regime for businessmen and Islamabad assured New Delhi of moving to negate the list of imports by this month-end before phasing it out by year-end making way for MFN status hanging fire for over 15 years.
The two countries also agreed to allow opening of two branches of their banks on reciprocal basis for which an understanding has been reached between RBI and State Bank of Pakistan. Visiting Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, who is leading an over 120 people-strong business delegation, said that he has discussed the issue of visa liberalisation with Home Minister and the two countries will completely revise the existing bilateral visa agreement that was signed in 1974 to facilitate travel by businessmen from both the countries.
"Visa agreement of 1974 will be revised and signed...I have discussed this matter with the Home Minister. Commerce, Home and External Affairs secretaries are in the final stages of deliberations," Sharma told reporters here.
The Joint Working Group (JWG) set up by the two countries to revise a Bilateral Visa Agreement in 1974, has finalised a draft and both sides have agreed to that, he added.
"Once the agreement has been made, necessary approvals have to be taken from the respective governments..This is for all people. Special dispensations would be made for businessmen…for business people we are making an arrangement which we have with our other partners," he said.
On the time period for signing the final agreement, he said: "We are keen to do at the earliest". He said that apex chambers will endorse the name of the people and they would be given visas. "We have nominated FICCI and CII and Pakistan will also nominate two chambers for the same," he added.
On the trade front, Pakistan is expected to grant the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India by this year-end as it is likely to phase out the negative list by then. Once the negative list is phased out, the transition to MFN status will be automatically completed.
At present, Pakistan follows 'a positive list' and permits imports of only about 1,900 items form India which gives almost full access to Pakistani goods. The joint statement said that Islamabad has agreed to move from a "positive list to a small negative list by February 2012" and it was expected that the phasing out of this list would be completed by the end of the year.
Islamabad assured India that the process for switching over to a negative list regime for bilateral trade is expected to be completed by end of the month as part of measures to normalise economic engagement between the two sides.
Official sources told PTI that the Indian side has raised the Pakistani government’s decision to defer the finalization of the negative list and an assurance was given by Fahim that the Pakistani side is committed to the timeframe it had earlier given to the New Delhi.
The Pakistani Commerce Minister said that by February end, they would hope to complete this process. "I hope we are moving fast in this direction and I hope there will be no problem," Fahim said, adding that Pakistan is proceeding and it would not take very long.
"The negative list is to be phased out; the timing for this will be announced in February, at the time the list is notified. It is expected that the phasing out will be completed before the end of 2012," said a joint statement issued after talks between Sharma and his Pakistani counterpart Makhdoom Amin Fahim.
The statement said that Islamabad has agreed to move from a "positive list to a small negative list by February 2012" and it is expected to be phased out completely by 2012-end. Official sources told PTI that the Indian side has raised the Pakistani government’s decision to defer the finalization of the negative list and an assurance was given by Fahim that the Pakistani side is committed to the timeframe it had earlier given to the New Delhi.